Islington Assembly Hall, London
Wednesday, 8th February 2023
Midweek gigs in London in February need to be a bit special to tempt out a decent crowd, and as support act Quantum Pig hit the stage, the signs weren’t very good as the Islington Assembly Hall was far from crowded. Undeterred, the duo of Mark Stevenson and Ian Faragher had a good go at warming up the audience with songs from their debut album, plus a couple of new songs soon to see the light of day. Stevenson is quite an entertaining character, and his between song banter kept us amused, but what impressed was his song lyrics which are a cut above the norm.
Keep the Nation Warm, apparently John Mitchell’s favourite track, is embellished with a brief segue into And You and I, Stevenson claiming he’d learned the lyrics. There was only one stumble, so well done that man. They finish with the rather touching Dirty Old Engine, an ode to the Industrial Revolution. As a stripped down duo, they sounded interesting. With a full band they might well be worth investigating further.
While the stage is set up for John Mitchell and Lonely Robot, it becomes clear that many more have been coming in out of the cold, and by the time the headliners come on, they are greeted by a very healthy and pleasingly enthusiastic crowd. They launch into Airlock and God Vs Man from the debut Lonely Robot album, and it’s immediately apparent that this band are enjoying finally being on stage after years of rearranged dates. Craig Blundell is a key player, and John’s first choice on the drum stool – and it’s obvious why. He supercharges the whole evening with his energetic precision drumming; he has power and subtlety, and he’s having a ball. On keyboards, I am somewhat surprised to see Graham Brown, who is more usually seen on drums for the likes of Cairo and Paradox Twin, but he’s clearly a bit of a multi-instrumentalist and seems perfectly at home. Also from Cairo and Paradox Twin is Sarah Bayley on backing vocals. The only person I don’t recognise is bass man Steve Mills, but he plays well, the whole band gelling early on in the set.
Mitchell looks the part, sporting a NASA t-shirt and orange jacket as he tears some great solos from his guitar, and as he settles down, even he seems to be enjoying himself. Much of the set is drawn from Please Come Home, and that’s probably a good decision, as it is a very strong album with many crowd pleasing songs, in particular Lonely Robot and Oubliette, the latter giving Sarah Bayley a chance to shine as she tackles Kim Seviour’s vocals from the original. It’s a wonderful highlight from a set packed with highlights. The latest album, A Model Life, one of 2022’s best, is well represented too, and Recalibrating and Digital God Machine are well received. The first real sing along though is How Bright is the Sun, a fantastic song which simply had to be included, and has everyone near me singing. Mitchell’s sun fixation continues with Icarus from the Under Stars album which soars skywards, shining brightly.
As John introduces Crystalline from Feelings Are Good, he advises us to “never release an album during a pandemic”. I’ll bear that in mind; presumably it sold disappointingly, although as he asks who has the record, the shouts are pretty deafening, so I guess he’s preaching to the converted. Anyway, Crystalline is a good choice, and certainly one of the stronger tracks from that album. We soon get to the part of the set where the band take a short break as Mitchell plays acoustic guitar and brings Leddra Chapman out to sing with him. He claims that they have never played the song before together, not even soundchecked it! Well you could have fooled me, because Why Do We Stay is pretty darn perfect, Leddra showing herself to have a super voice. The quiet section of the show continues with the touching The Red Balloon, which Mitchell tells us is about his experiences around adoption.
The band now wind themselves up for the big finish, with the rousing The Boy in the Radio, followed by Species in Transition, Mitchell reeling off another great solo on the latter. Whilst his main talent is as a songwriter, he really is an underrated guitar player and vocalist, but nobody here tonight will have been left in any doubt of his talents. The band leave the stage, as is the law, according to Mitchell, but more is demanded, so they soon return. In Floral Green is another peach of a song, and a definite favourite. Mr Blundell then shows us why he is first choice for the drum stool, with a solo that is spot on; not too long, and avoiding the easy cliches associated with such moments. He’s come a long way since first appearing in Steven Wilson’s band, and is clearly one of the best prog drummers around. We finish with Sigma from The Big Dream, and we are sent out into the cold London night air with a warm glow and smiles from a great gig. It would be nice to think that it won’t be a matter of years before Lonely Robot come home once again.
God Vs Man
How Bright is the Sun?
Digital God Machine
The Island of Misfit Toys
Why Do We Stay? (with Leddra Chapman)
The Red Balloon
The Boy in the Radio
Species in Transition
In Floral Green
Craig Blundell drum solo
John Mitchell – guitar, vocals
Craig Blundell – drums, percussion
Steve Mills – bass
Graham Brown – keyboards
Sarah Bailey – backing vocals
Leddra Chapman – Vocals (on Why Do We Stay?)